Sustainability in the Western Balkans: challenges in tourism, agriculture and smart cities 2018 – 2020

International Expert Roundtable in Tirana, Albania

20 October 2018

This roundtable was hosted by Mrs. Ornela Cuci, deputy Minister of Tourism (Albania) and Mr. Zoran Sapuric, Minister for Regulations Investments and Climate (Macedonia). The main topics discussed included:

-Tourism sector is playing a vital role in the social and economic development in the Western Balkans. Nevertheless, it is hard for these countries to promote themselves individually which is why a regional approach could be both sustainable and profitable for all.

-Agriculture has been a backbone of the Western Balkans for centuries. There are three important aspects frequently talked on sustainable agriculture:
(1) employment; (2) food productivity and; (3) economic performance. Is a re-orientation to organic farming a promising solution for the Western Balkans region? EU is funding NGO projects like “Sustainable agriculture in sustainable Balkans” aiming to build a regional working platform on sustainable agriculture. Is it enough?

-The role of local governments in Western Balkans has been evolving, along with increased responsibilities, but capacity gaps remain that need to be addressed. Local governments in the Western Balkans face particular challenges from decentralization, a mismatch of revenue and expenditure management, a lack of infrastructure investments, and weak local institutions – all of which are coupled with the need to combat corruption and increase the pace of reforms. Other environmental challenges range from local air quality concerns, traffic congestion and limited land resources to pressure on water resources and the challenges associated with municipal solid waste. Is peer-to-peer supporting a better option today?

Albania 2015-2018

Project Name: Institute for Diplomacy and Development Studies in Tirana
Project partners: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Albanian International Scholarship Foundation

Project Summary

We were in ongoing talks with the Swiss Foundation (on whose Board the distinguished Dutch Ambassador van Hoorn served) to partner in setting up a type of Hague Academy/Clingendael non-degree center for trainings/courses/conferences targeting young leaders and future diplomats from Southeastern Europe. The Swiss government has already pledged 200.000 euro for the startup. An assessment visit was conducted in Tirana in April 2015 to discuss this idea with law faculties, city officials and a representative of the EU. There was an indication that the EU would be willing to provide matching funds for this initiative. This project was put on hold due to Ambassador van Hoorn’s health, but we spoke about it often and he envisioned this as an important contribution to the region.
Sadly, Ambassador van Hoorn passed away in March of this year.  EWPPP is continuing his ‘mission’ and setting up a project in his honor. We have spoken with several of his colleagues at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and all were in favor of the initiative and pledged support, offering to contribute their time and expertise to training young diplomats from the Western Balkan region.
We envision yearly training sessions for young diplomats from the region, to be held in different locations throughout the Western Balkans, beginning in Tirana, which will culminate in the awarding of a scholarship to one of the participants in the name of Ambassador van Hoorn for further study in public policy.

Youth Unemployment in the Western Balkans: the case of Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro 2016-2017

Project Name: The rising challenge of youth unemployment in the Western Balkans
Project partners: Albanian Center for Human Rights, Western Balkans Democracy Initiative, Institute for Development Policy (INDEP) Kosovo, Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT) Montenegro, Centre for Strategic Research and Documentation (FORUM) Macedonia
Project budget: EUR 105.000 funded by the King Boudwijn Foundation
Project duration: 2016-2017

Project Summary

EWPPP focus on the Western Balkans (Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia) is based on the position of these countries vis-à-vis the EU, the Berlin Process for the Western Balkans and the challenges they are facing as a region with ‘brain drain’ and overall youth exodus. Between mid- 2014 and mid- 2015, some 164,650 citizens of the Western Balkans sought asylum in the EU, or 22.05 % of all asylum seekers in the EU.
Overall, youth unemployment levels remain critically high. A recent report on youth employment in the Western Balkans by the in World Bank (2016) finds that many young people are idle—that is, neither in employment nor in training—and that young women, in particular, have a weak attachment to the labor market.
The project aims at exploring solutions in order to provide them with alternatives – as well as to prevent others from leaving their countries. This project is exploring exchange and cooperation at the government level which could help in creating a ‘free work zone’ in the Western Balkans, where youth could work anywhere in the region without work permits. Project activities include cross border exchanges of information on education, discussion with youth groups and political leadership designed to provide alternatives to the massive youth migration and youth unemployment.

Tirana Roundtable: The rising challenge of youth unemployment in Albania
Date: 23 May 2016

Albania is second to Syria in the number of refugees heading to Germany (290.000 asylum seekers in the past 3 years). They are not entitled to asylum, but still have to be processed and end up languishing in Germany in refugee camps. Visa free travel through Schengen countries has enabled this massive migration north. The Albanian roundtable was held in January 2016 in Tirana, Albania, under the auspices of the Albanian Minister of Youth and Welfare, and with the participation of MPs, civil society representatives from the Western Balkan region, and Albanian youth groups.

Pristina Roundtable: The rising challenge of youth unemployment in Kosovo
13 February 2017

The Kosovar roundtable was held in Pristina on 13 February 2017, under the auspices of the Ministry of Youth and Social Welfare. Kosovo suffers not only very high youth unemployment, but also a desire among the youth to migrate – especially to Germany. It is a major problem not only for Germany, but for all Western Balkan countries, which are losing their potential work force. The turnout was exceptional. The conference provided youth political activists/leaders a forum to debate their concerns with one another and the Minister of Youth.

Podgorica Workshop: The rising challenge of youth unemployment in Montenegro
1 April 2017

Although due to the economic growth in Montenegro, the general unemployment rates have declined, the winners among the recent employment recovery are workers aged 55 and older as well as the highly educated. The losers, on the other hand, are the low-educated, especially low- educated youth. The workshop was held in Podgorica on April 1, 2017, under the auspices of the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism. Participants included civil society representatives and local authorities from Montenegro, Slovenia, Albania and Kosovo.

Kosovo 2017-2018

Project title: Instilling oversight mechanisms for the Kosovo Assembly to monitor effectively and enhance the accountability of independent agencies and institutions”.
Project partners: Assembly of Kosovo, Institute for Development Policy (INDEP)

Project Summary

The Assembly of Kosovo is the newest parliament in the region. Since its first session in 2008, a lot has been done to enhance and reinforce the legislative and oversight capacities of the Assembly. This project aims at ensuring the highest accountability standards when dealing with the independent agencies and institutions. It will further empower parliament to monitor and oversee the regulatory bodies and better inform the citizens about the role of the independent agencies in their daily lives.

Armenia 2018

Project name: Parliamentary democracy in Armenia
Project partners: Armenian Parliament, The International Association of Business and Parliament-Armenia (IABP-Armenia)

Project Summary

The project will review the current state of parliamentary democracy in Armenia, reflecting on changes since Armenia’s independence and relative to the European neighborhood policy. Participants will include members of parliaments and parliamentary experts from throughout Europe.

Tunisia 2015

Project title: Women Candidates in Tunisian Elections
Project partners: Tunisian Association for Management and Social Stability (TAMSS)

Project summary

During 2012-2013 Tunisia moved forward quickly, dissolving its Islamic government/parliament and adopting a modern, progressive constitution favouring equal rights for women and parity in political participation, paving the way for new elections, to be held in Fall 2014. To ensure that women candidates would be able to participate effectively in these elections, the EWPPP partnered with local NGOs in Tunisia and experts to develop a program designed to build the capacities of a select number of women candidates from different political parties who would stand for elections in Tunisia. ”Women Candidates in Tunisian Elections” focuses on training in political skill development, designing campaigns and media strategies for a target group of 64 Tunisian women candidates. The project will be implemented in two cycles: national and local/municipal elections in Tunisia. Upon completion of the project, we envision setting up a training center for women decision makers in Tunis, which could serve as a regional center for active and aspiring women politicians from throughout the MENA region. The project was put on hold temporarily due to regional violence, but will be adapted to present and future circumstances in Tunisia.